July 10, 2011
Cheyenne Sprint Triathlon
Let me tell you about my story of racing in a triathlon in Wyoming based at the Curt Gowdy State Park. Curt Gowdy was a well-respected sports announcer on television when only three national networks existed. He announced play-by-play action for baseball, basketball, football games, and some Olympic events. My time reference on Mr. Gowdy was before ESPN existed and before professional athletes competed legally in the Olympics. He hosted the American Sportsman shown on ABC on Sundays. I didn’t like his sports show. It was mostly about fishing and hunting. Too slow for me. Fishing was for the athlete who wanted to do nothing. I raced in triathlons to hone my competitive interests as the work environment didn’t encourage the tension. And realized before getting married competition should not be a positive influencer in that institution. Triathloning was for the athlete who wanted to accomplish the most of a lot. Heck, it took three significant sports combined to create a triathlon. He broadcasted before anyone thought to combine swimming, biking, and running to create triathlons.
Broadcaster Gowdy called many of the American Football League (AFL) football games. I didn’t like the AFL. I liked the NFL. When the Jets beat the Colts in the Super Bowl, I took it out on him. I didn’t know Curt Gowdy personally but I didn’t like him. I liked Wide World of Sports that aired on Saturdays on ABC. I liked Jim McKay.
Strange how we make preferences based on images and comparisons, not actual personal relationships. Think about some of our favorite likes and favorite hates. Few of us know any of them personally. We only know of them because of their profession. People liked Curt Gowdy or Jim McKay, Mary Ann or Ginger, Coe or Ovett, Tiger or Phil, Brady or Manning, LeBron or Curry, Hillary or Donald, and in triathloning, it was Mark or Dave.
I flew into Denver International Airport and drove 100 miles north to Cheyenne, Wyoming on Saturday morning. Wyoming is the least populated state in the US though the 10th largest based on land mass. An estimated 570,000 people claimed Wyoming as home in 2011. But in this low population state a strong group of triathletes existed ready to compete and represent Wyoming at the 2011 Best of the U.S. State Qualifier Triathlon. This Tri series qualified the best individual triathletes from each of the 50 states to gather at single race Championship each year. The quickest triathletes of each gender who won the qualifiers in their resident state earned the honor to represent themselves and their state at championship race. The championship was the most concentrated top talent representing each state at a single competition so a few hundred competitors were entered into the Cheyenne Sprint for Sunday.
I checked into a room at a hotel on the west side outskirts of Wyoming’s state capital. I re-connected with my bike shipped out a few days earlier. No issues with bike arriving on-time for this race. On Sunday I drove out to the race site. Race day felt colder with the grey skies above and because there was still snow lingering into the summer in the foothills of nearby Laramie Mountains where we raced.
Curt Gowdy State Park, located 25 miles west of the Cheyenne, hosted the race. I drove a half an hour to the Park on Happy Jack Road. The drive out to the park was relatively flat until the last five miles that included more than easy roller hills. I passed by the Happy Jack Club, a combination bar, motorcycle hangout, and food provider. They provided the post-race breakfast burritos which were awesome. I eyed the place when driving to the race and would stop by after the race when not in a hurry and with a designated driver.
A nature appropriate wooden sign with the name Curt Gowdy State Park arched 50 feet from edge to edge over its entry point. The sign signaled the park was more American Sportsman oriented than a public park for domesticated picnics. The park was more about fishing, horseback riding, and big game wildlife than lush grass, butterflies, and swans on the lake. But for this Sunday, the park visitors were more likely to see people wearing Lycra than blue jeans, riding carbon fiber bikes than beautifully groomed horses, and swimming in the lake wearing neoprene than wearing waders flicking fly rods. The park sure was beautiful, pleasant, and a relaxing getaway far from any city setting. Sometimes government personnel show how to best merge nature and human social gathering points for the celebration of life.
Gowdy grew up in Wyoming and the state officials appropriately honored him by naming this beautiful State Park after him. We swam and ran in the park for the race while the bike leg started and ended there. This was the first Sprint Distance Triathlon I competed in on the journey as a planned race. Mainly because the Cheyenne Sprint Triathlon was the only triathlon in Wyoming in 2011.
About one hundred fit competitors competed in the race including a young couple who warmed up together in near matching Boston Marathon shirts. One competitor wore a 2010 version and her sigo wore a 2011 version. Not sure if they each earned their shirts or they shared. Both racers sported running physiques so both most likely qualified. And usually in participative sports like triathlons, running, and cycling; few non competitors dare wear finisher shirts gifted to them. In triathloning, the fans are the competitors or the competitors are the fans. I’m still not clear on that one. We wear race shirts or related race gear as a badge of accomplishment and to get our monies worth out of the sometimes steep race entry fees. There is little tolerance for posers.
The race started later than scheduled as the Race Director wanted to get all the racers checked in and because of a special first wave category. The race was low key so no one got upset about the delay nor did they allow it to throw them off their pre-race warm-up routines. The only issue I heard among the waiting competitors was how cold they got waiting. Some competitors did a pre-race warm-up swim that turned out to be more of get cold swim with the delayed start. With the overcast skies and the howling winds blowing over the cool water, the neoprene was not enough to keep a wet competitor warm against the elements of nature. Air temps were mid-to-high 50’s. Competitors sat on picnic tables or on the ground in wet neoprene outfits with no shoes and minimal physical movement to generate body heat. Finally, the race started with a special wave for a sight-impaired triathlete tethered to a guide. Everyone rooted for him. No one seemed to care about the delay anymore. Everyone only wanted the triathlete to succeed at his main challenge of the day. Ironic this triathlete had better insight of his race than what some of the other first time triathletes saw coming that morning. Or me as a lowland triathlete racing at attitude in Wyoming.
I sat on a picnic table in my rip-repaired wetsuit. While I researched new wetsuits and decided on a new TYR Cat 3, between work, travel, and my race schedule, the wetsuit didn’t get ordered until late June. Meantime, I repaired my ripped wetsuit with a mixture of wetsuit repair kit, an epoxy glue two-tube set from the hardware store, and a tube of rubber seal repair kit for a car’s sunroof and doors. The end result was a black colored 6-inch scar that stuck up a quarter-inch above the rest of the wetsuit’s outer skin. The inside of my wetsuit felt like six-inch long jagged stick pressed into my thigh like a serrated knife. The repair work didn’t hurt me but I always felt like it was trying to slice into my quad when walking around in the wetsuit. Once in the water though the wetsuit kept me water tight, warm, and buoyant. I finished the rest of the race season with the repaired suit.
At the sound of the horn we jumped into the brisk 60°F degree water of the Granite Springs Reservoir for a 600 meter counter-clock wise loop swim. This was the second highest attitude race for me. In 1999 I raced at an attitude of 9,100 feet above sea level outside of Flagstaff, AZ at the Mountainman Olympic distance triathlon. At that race we did a 1500 meter swim leg. I went out quickly, at least at my usual start pace, and within 100 meters was gasping big time for air. My lungs could not absorb enough oxygen due to the low air pressure to sustain my normal stroke turnover cadence. At an altitude of 9,100 feet there was a one-third less air pressure than at sea level that helps your lungs absorb oxygen. I slowed way down and went to an easy breaststroke with minimal kick and my full head out of the water. Back then I felt spent physically and I was only done with 2% of a planned Olympic distance triathlon. I relaxed, slowed down, and paced myself through the rest of the swim leg. I also resolved never to go out so quickly when racing at altitude again. Hence with the race start in Wyoming at 7,500 feet, I started slowly and steadily worked up my pace to a sustainable swim stroke turnover to ensure my O2 intake matched my body’s O2 needs.
We exited the water, ran across a short distance to the parking lot, stripped off our wetsuits and mounted our bikes outside the transition area. The Cheyenne Tri offered a simplistic 10 mile course. We climbed up a steep hill to the park’s exit, turned right onto Happy Jack Road, rode east for almost five miles to the turnaround point and then backtracked over the same course to return to the transition area. Though simple, the course was challenging.
The bike course was a half mile climb followed by four miles downhill with the wind to our back. With the relatively short distance I pedaled hard and fast coming out of the transition area. I was sucking air quickly but thought I could tolerate a redlining effort to bike out of the park because after clearing the park we lost 3,000 feet of altitude. Between the strong pull of gravity on the downhill bike ride, combined with a 20+ mph push of the wind on my back, I spun out my bike gearing. I was going too fast for pedaling to matter. The experience was fascinating yet scary. I tucked in to get as aero as possible. My bike and I turned more into a glider than a pedal powered jet fighter. My oxygen debt dropped to nothing for the super quick thrill ride bottomed out for the final flat mile to the turnaround point. Then the ride got hard.
I did a 180 degree turn. All the sudden the wind was in our face as we climbed back up the 4-mile wall of pain. My lungs burned and the quads felt weighted down with bricks. I was sucking air the whole time back to T2 though did get a brief reprieve on the drop back into the park.
The second transition went quick as did the whole 3.1 mile run leg. The course was a relatively flat out and back run on pavement and packed dirt. I didn’t have enough speed to catch the runner in front of me or enough time for my legs to recover from the tough bike climb back up the mountainside in the oxygen light atmosphere. I crossed the finish line, and then back tracked along the course to provide encouragement to the stream of competitors continued their run to complete the race. And like that, my race was over. This was my shortest and quickest triathlon since 2001 at a Grand Prix style race in Casa Grande, Arizona.
After returning to my backpack, I changed into my trainers to get an extended warm down. Since I would be back to the Rocky Mountains in a month to race in Colorado, decided to take advantage of the downtime between the time I finished and the awards ceremony. I ran up the hill’s switchbacks to the park’s exit a couple of times to get more experienced at running hills at attitude, a real plus for a flat lander like me. The biggest challenge on the warm down was shouting out to the racers as they came screaming down the hill to T2 while I was gasping for air while running up and out of the park on the bike course. I didn’t go too hard or too far. By the end of the race and warm down, I was beat.
At the post race gathering met fellow competitor Jose Valdes from Fort Collins, Colorado. Jose was a college professor and administrator, runner, triathlete, and sometimes race official. He was a pleasantly interesting guy. He earned a podium finish for his race efforts at the Cheyenne Tri. Previously, he had qualified for the Boston Marathon a number of times but never competed there. He was scheduled to race at the Denver Rock and Roll Marathon later in October with the full intention to qualify again for Boston and then finally race the grandfather of all marathons the following April. His triathlon career covered almost 30 years with his current sights on qualifying for the ITU Age Group Worlds at the next USAT Age Group Nationals race. We talked an hour.
Jose was also an immigrant from Cuba. He spoke quietly though with great enthusiasm and confidence. He came to the US early on with his family. He spoke proudly of what his family achieved here. We both agreed America’s strength benefitted from immigrants and their motivational stories.
Jose wanted to go back to visit Cuba, Havana and elsewhere, and experience his native country as an adult. He recently watched a show on the Travel Channel hosted by Anthony Bourdain about Cuba and how that was an “emotional experience” to see his homeland. With travel restrictions much more loose now, he will be able to check off that goal on his journey of life. But for now, Jose felt we lived in a country of great of opportunity. With his personal and race goals thoroughly defined, he seemed to thrive with the optimism of continual opportunities for years to come in his future.
As I headed back to the hotel for a shower and pack up the bike I took a hard look to stop at the Happy Jack Club. But decided too many miles and not enough time existed between here and Denver, to fully enjoy a post-race celebration of beer and more burritos. On the drive back to Cheyenne a dozen pronghorn antelope appeared on the mountainside. I looked at them enviously thinking I sure could have benefitted on the run if I ran as quick as their herd. Later in the early afternoon I watched a pair of gliders gracefully sail unencumbered beneath the beautiful blue skies of northeast Colorado. I imagined the downhill portion of my morning’s cycling closely imitated the roaring sound of moving air the pilots enjoyed in the sky above.
Curt Gowdy kicked my butt during the Cheyenne Sprint Triathlon at his state park. He figuratively gave me so much pain for the 70 minutes of racing I could barely stand at the finish. Decided Gowdy didn’t like me either. He got in the last laugh at my expense and he didn’t know me. In return, gained a new respect for Mr. Gowdy as a broadcaster and a lasting legacy he left behind to the citizens of Wyoming.
Results: 2nd overall. 1st in age group.